Election to the German National Assembly
The election to the German National Assembly took place on January 19, 1919. It was the first nationwide election after the November Revolution of 1918 and had the goal of forming the Weimar constituent assembly . The Council of People's Representatives should also be replaced by a democratically legitimized government. It was the first nationwide election based on proportional representation and the first in which women also had the right to vote . In the run-up to this, new political groupings were formed from the old parties, especially in the bourgeois camp, without anything serious changing in the party spectrum itself. The SPD emerged as the strongest force in the elections, but without an absolute majority it was dependent on coalition partners. Together with the Center Party and the German Democratic Party (DDP), it formed what was called the Weimar Coalition .
After the defeat in World War I and the end of the monarchy , the political future in Germany was initially unclear. The Council of People's Representatives under Friedrich Ebert wanted to leave the decision on the future constitution and form of government to a constituent national assembly. This also corresponded to the wish of the MSPD , large parts of the USPD and the bourgeois parties. The left wing of the USPD and the Spartacus League reacted negatively . The latter called for Russian model a council rule . The time was controversial among those in favor of a national assembly. The MSPD pleaded for the earliest possible date, among other things to democratically legitimize the government. The USPD, on the other hand, demanded a much later election date. She saw the opportunity to make numerous fundamental decisions by then. This concerned, for example, the socialization of the economy or the democratization of the civil service.
At the first Reichsrätekongress , which took place on December 16-18, 1918, the subject of the National Assembly was an important point of discussion. The majority of the 490 voting participants were close to the MSPD. Congress rejected pure council rule. With a large majority, the assembly agreed on January 19, 1919, on a very early date for the election to the National Assembly. The Council of People's Representatives had proposed February 16. A preliminary decision in favor of parliamentary democracy had already been made through the self-disempowerment of the councils.
As a result, the suppression of the Christmas riots in Berlin led to the USPD leaving the Council of People's Representatives. The KPD was founded on December 31, 1918 . On January 5th, the so-called Spartacus Uprising began , which government troops had been using force since January 11th. The leading figures of the KPD Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered by Freikorps officers. Bremen led to the formation of a Soviet government , which was crushed by government troops. In the Ruhr area , the socialization movement called for fundamental changes in the economic structure.
The election campaign and election took place against a background of great political excitement.
According to the election regulations of November 30, 1918, a general, equal, secret and direct right to vote was valid for the first time across the Reich. For the first time women and soldiers could vote. (This meant that the soldiers who were still in Russia were also entitled to vote. They sent two MPs to the National Assembly.) The voting age had been lowered from 25 to 20 years. The changes in the right to vote resulted in a sharp increase in the number of voters. The first application of proportional representation in a nationwide election was intended to compensate for injustices, for example in the constituency layout and in runoff elections. Now there were around 150,000 inhabitants for one MP. The realm was divided into 38 (large) constituencies with numerous individual constituencies. With the exception of Alsace-Lorraine , which was occupied by France , a large part of the province of Posen , which had largely come under Polish control during the Posen uprising , and the colonies occupied by the war opponents, the election took place throughout the entire territory of the former Reich. Although Austria sought to join Germany, no elections to the National Assembly took place there.
Spectrum of parties
It was clear that the MSPD and USPD would run for election in their existing form. Although Liebknecht and Luxemburg had spoken out in favor of the KPD participating in the elections, the majority of the delegates at the founding assembly declined to participate.
In the Center Party there was a strong conservative wing that opposed the revolution. But there was also a left wing, mainly represented by Matthias Erzberger , who advocated republic and democracy. Within the party, the question was also discussed whether it should continue to be a Catholic party or transform itself into a Christian, cross-denominational party. Ultimately, the status quo of a Catholic party remained. An indication of this discussion is that the party officially called itself the Christian People's Party (CVP) in this election. In social terms, the party represented large parts of Catholic Germany from the workers, through the middle class and bourgeoisie to the nobility. The clergy also played an important role. A big issue for the party was an allegedly threatened new “Kulturkampf”. So the denominational school was seen in danger. Above all, the anti-church policy of the Prussian Minister of Culture Adolph Hoffmann played a role. The result was that the party, closed to the outside world, waged an election campaign directed primarily against the Social Democrats.
However, the Catholic camp did not vote as one. Rather, the Bavarian People's Party had already broken away from the center on November 12, 1918 . In addition to fear of centralist tendencies and anti-Prussian sentiments, the concern that the left wing might prevail in the center also played a role. This saw the influence of conservative voters and peasants waning. The BVP then followed a much more conservative course than the center.
Especially in the bourgeois milieu there have been tendencies to reorganize and re-form parties since the revolution. Many of these deliberately called themselves “people's parties” in order to differentiate themselves from the socialist class parties and the Catholic parties.
The German Democratic Party (DDP) was established as early as November 1918. The DDP welcomed the end of the empire, rejected the dictatorship from both left and right, declared its support for a democratic people's state and sought social and political reforms. The party even envisaged the socialization of parts of the economy with a monopoly structure. The supporters included liberal workers, members of the old and new middle class, but also parts of the educated middle class. The supporters came mainly from the left-liberal Progressive People's Party and from smaller sections of the National Liberal Party . The hope of the founders of the DDP to become a liberal rallying party with the involvement of the majority of the National Liberals failed because of content-related and personal reservations of the people involved.
The real legacy of the National Liberals came into being in December 1918 when the German People's Party (DVP) came into being. This continuity was embodied by Gustav Stresemann . The party stood clearly to the right of the DDP and emphasized its national stance. A considerable part of its members and supporters mourned the empire. The party was mainly supported by the self-employed from the crafts and trade as well as industrialists. She strictly rejected any form of socialism or socialization and saw herself as a defender of private property. She also stood up for the interests of agriculture. Financial support from heavy industry proved beneficial to the party.
The German National People's Party (DNVP), founded at the end of November, followed the tradition of the right-wing Fatherland Party , the Conservatives and the Free Conservative Party of the German Empire. In addition to traditional conservatives, there were also Pan-Germans , Christian-Social and anti-Semites in their ranks. Here, too, the middle class, civil servants and educated citizens, but also nationally minded workers and employees were strongly represented. The DNVP had its clear regional focus in the Protestant Prussian areas east of the Elbe. The party rejected the revolution and sought a restoration of the monarchy, although it publicly declared itself in favor of a parliamentary government.
For this election, industrialists led by Carl Friedrich von Siemens founded the Board of Trustees for the Reconstruction of German Economic Life, which provided 4.8 million marks (ℳ) to finance the election campaign. Of this, the DDP received 1 million and the DVP and DNVP each received ℳ 500,000. The aim was to send "men of business life" to parliament to work there in the interests of business.
Of the 36.766 million eligible voters, 83.0% cast their votes. This meant that the turnout was slightly lower than in the 1912 Reichstag election with 84.9%. However, the number of voters rose sharply due to the new electoral law. About 20 million votes were cast more than in 1912. This meant an increase of 167%.
The SPD was by far the strongest force with 37.9%. The USPD received significantly fewer votes with 7.6%. Together the left-wing camp was stronger than in the Reichstag elections of 1912. But even together, the two parties did not have an absolute majority, which severely restricted the scope for fundamental changes in line with the socialist party programs.
The DDP achieved a great success with 18.5%. Compared to the Progressive People's Party in 1912, this meant an increase of 6.2%. Together, BVP and the center received 19.7% more votes than the center result of 1912, 3.3% more. With 10.3%, the DNVP came up with a significantly worse result than its predecessor parties including agrarian and anti-Semitic forces. All of these together came to 15.1% in 1912. The crisis of the right-wing liberals was particularly evident. Whereas the National Liberals had gained 13.6% in 1912, the DVP was only able to gain 4.4%.
The new electoral law meant that the majority of voters (around 50%) were first-time voters. In addition, the electorate had become younger. The consequences cannot be precisely determined, but it can be assumed that younger voters were more inclined to participate in radical parties. A considerable proportion of the female voters, however, tended to vote for Christian or more conservative parties. At least in the election to the National Assembly, women's suffrage had considerable political consequences. While women took part less often than men in later elections, in 1919 both sexes made use of the right to vote more or less equally. The SPD, which had long advocated women's suffrage, could hardly benefit from this. This is shown by the evaluation of constituencies in which votes were cast separately according to gender. In Cologne, for example, 46% men, but only 32.2% women, voted for the SPD. In Catholic regions, women voted above average for one of the Catholic parties. In the predominantly Protestant areas, the DDP and DNVP benefited from women's suffrage.
It is noteworthy that the SPD recorded its greatest growth in the rural areas of the East Elbe. The party managed to win over the farm workers. However, this group of voters was lost again in the following elections. The USPD had some strongholds, mostly in northern and central Germany. In Leipzig and Merseburg the party was even stronger than the MSPD. The Catholic parties, under which the center in particular had suffered for some time from a certain loss of the ability to bind, owed their profits to the anti-church campaign of Adolph Hoffmann . This led the Catholic voters and especially the Catholic women to back the center and BVP. The DNVP also benefited from Hoffmann's policy, as it ensured that Protestant believers remained in the conservative camp. The poor performance of the DVP had various reasons. On the one hand, after the belated founding of the party, a functioning organization was lacking. But it also had to do with the fact that many middle-class voters voted for the DDP for tactical reasons. In bourgeois circles it was expected that after the election the MSPD would form a coalition with the DDP. Often not because of a fundamental proximity to left-wing liberalism, but to strengthen the bourgeois part of the future government, many voters voted for the DDP. In the election campaign, the DDP deliberately distanced itself from the SPD, for example by presenting itself as the guardian of private property. This made her successful in the old and new medium-sized businesses.
Overall, the parties critical of the republic had done poorly. The political forces that advocated a new political order, on the other hand, had the majority of voters behind them.
In essence, it had also been shown that the party system at the beginning of the republic was basically similar to that of the empire. Some of the political camps changed the names of the parties, but remained as such. However, the party system had also become more differentiated, for example by splitting off the USPD and the KPD in the socialist camp, or the BVP in the Catholic camp. It is noteworthy that many parties called themselves the People's Party. The term conservative and liberal disappeared from the party names.
The National Assembly was constituted on February 6, 1919 in politically quiet Weimar . The result of the election basically only allowed a coalition of the SPD, the center and the DDP. In view of the tension between the fraternal parties, an alliance between the MSPD and the USPD was only theoretically conceivable. A small coalition of the SPD and DDP would also have been possible, but the fear of dominance by the SPD caused those responsible for the DDP to refrain from doing so. In fact, a coalition of the center with the BVP, SPD and DDP came about. On February 10, a law on provisional imperial power was passed. On February 11th, Friedrich Ebert was elected provisional Reich President by a large majority. On the same day, Philipp Scheidemann was commissioned to form a government. The election to the National Assembly, the election of the Reich President and the appointment of the Scheidemann government marked the end of the actual revolutionary era.
After the election, the National Assembly was composed as follows:
|proportion of||compared to 1912||absolutely|
|conservative||German National People's Party (DNVP)||10.3%||−1.2%||41|
|liberal||Right-||German People's Party (DVP)||4.4%||−9.2%||23|
|Left-||German Democratic Party (DDP)||18.5%||+ 6.2%||74|
|Catholics||Christian People's Party (CVP)||19.7%||+ 3.3%||89|
|Socialists||Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)||37.9%||+ 3.1%||165|
|Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD)||7.6%||+ 7.6%||22nd|
|Regional parties||German-Hanoverian Party (DHP)||0.2%||−0.5%||3|
|Bavarian farmers' union||0.9%||−1.0%||4th|
|Schleswig-Holstein Farmers 'and Rural Workers' Democracy (SHBLD)||0.2%||+ 0.2%||1|
|Braunschweig regional electoral association||0.2%||+ 0.2%||1|
- List of members of the National Assembly from 1919
- History of the parties in Germany
- History of the right to vote in Germany
- Statistisches Reichsamt (Ed.): Quarterly books on statistics of the German Reich. 28th year 1919. First supplementary booklet. The elections for the constituent German National Assembly on January 19, 1919. Berlin 1919. pp. 17ff .; Statistisches Reichsamt (Hrsg.): Quarterly books on statistics of the German Reich. 28th year 1919. 4th issue. Berlin 1919. pp. 278ff.
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- Heinrich August Winkler: Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, p. 64
- Heinrich August Winkler: Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, p. 63
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- Heinrich August Winkler: Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, p. 70
- Heinrich August Winkler: Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, p. 69
- Hedwig Richter u. Kerstin Wolff (Ed.), Women's suffrage. Democratization of Democracy in Germany and Europe, Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2018.
- Ludger Grevelhörster: Brief history of the Weimar Republic. Münster 2003, p. 32.
- Karl Rohe: Elections and voter traditions in Germany. Frankfurt 1992, p. 12 f.
- Heinrich August Winkler: Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, p. 70 f.
- Heinrich August Winkler: Weimar 1918–1933. The history of the first German democracy. Beck, Munich 1993, p. 72
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